Friday, October 14, 2016

Wild About Mobility for White Cane Day 2016

Happy White Cane Day 2016!
We had another amazing celebration of White Cane Day here in Utah. It was my biggest event ever! Many, many thanks to the Utah's Hogle Zoo for hosting our special day. This year the theme was Wild About Mobility!
I will share our highlights with tips on how you can pull off your own special event at the zoo. I know you might have reservations initially about going to the zoo with students with vision impairments and students who have multiple impairments. I'll admit the zoo isn't the first place I thought of as the most exciting place for our kids. BUT, think again because the zoo can be a fun place for every child--our kiddos included. It requires a little creativity and support from the zoo. Utah's Hogle Zoo has a special education program director dedicated specifically to working with kids with disabilities. Vision impairment, as you know, is a low incidence disability so it can be tough to find adaptations that meet our kids unique needs. Nevertheless, it can be done!

The first thing that I did to get our event going was to reach out to the zoo about this idea. This is what led me directly to Elise Plumly, special ed program director at the zoo. She had already some of our kids come to the zoo for her special Zoo For You classes and had monoculars and textured items for our kids to touch. That was helpful but I also had to think of White Cane Day and how to make this a blend of zoo interaction and mobility instruction. I emailed our faithful mobility instructors and we all met at the zoo. I did a walk through with Elise in the morning and then met the mobility instructors that afternoon and we walked the zoo! They took notes, discussed instruction and we really looked at the zoo through mobility eyes. We wrote a mobility challenge course for White Cane Day. 

I also am very aware of the difficulties that our kiddos with multiple impairments and are in wheelchairs have about coming to public events especially when it comes to changing needs. I am a big supporter of updating ADA or accessible restrooms for people that have unique toiling needs (such as changing a brief/diaper). Those little counter top changing pads are meant for a toddler not a 14 year old young man. I know that many families struggle with this so I made sure that not only did we have an accessible restroom, it was an accessible restroom with a large changing pad suitable for an older child. I brought a large mat that I have designated as a changing pad and we converted the restroom to accommodate my larger students that would need to be changed. This is important for these students and I wanted them to be part of this activity. 

I wanted my students to have something that would help them remember or follow up on their special trip to the zoo so I organized experience book packets for each student. Inside the packets had an information page about making an experience book (with a link for more information on experience books at Paths to Literacy), fabric pelts (I bought every type of fabric pelt Joann Fabrics had!), 65lb card stock paper and pictures of animals. Teachers could customize the experience books based on their students needs and vision. One teacher made animal foot print stamps out of different textures for art while making their books (see picture above). What another fun way to discuss animals! I loved it. 

Students had the option of coming for the whole day or just for the mobility challenge for White Cane Day. I took the mobility challenge notes that the OM instructors wrote and turned them into different challenge courses for students. We then donated the large print copies (the font was in Arial 28 size) and Braille copies to the zoo for other kids with vision impairments who may come to the zoo and want an activity. 

The Hogle Zoo made arrangements for seven different animal interaction stations throughout the zoo. This was a huge help and what made learning about the animals a true learning experience. Each station was identified for White Cane Day and had many artifacts that could be touched, animal facts and environmental facts to learn about. These stations were awesome! Take a look at the station pictures. There is an actual elephant ear, a rhino horn, skull and cast of footprints---so many ways to learn about the animals. I also encouraged the zoo to provide other things to help with concept development such as touching the food the animals eat and a measuring stick or rope that show how long or tall an animal is. 

I also included our birth-three program with the help of our early intervention division. We had a special area of the zoo designated for them and then invited them to walk through the zoo to see the stations and older children with vision impairments. Our early intervention station had all kinds of sensory activities to participate in with an experience book for them and plastic animals to interact with. 

Our students had the best time at the zoo! We learned about mobility, animals, environment and had the best ECC day. Can you see all the areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum that we covered in our White Cane Day at the zoo?  Here are some examples:
Compensatory: using a magnifier device (monoculars and magnifiers), read Braille signs and information, understanding how animals are organized, using different communication modes
Orientation & mobility: we had tactual and large print maps made for the zoo--reading maps, scanning, identifying different environments, 
Social skills Development: interaction with zoo staff, public, friends, eating lunch with new people at the zoo
Independent Living Skills: gracefully eating lunch in public, accessing public bathrooms, keeping personal items organized during the zoo rotations.
Recreation & Leisure: Enjoying the zoo! 
Career Education: Learning the roles of the workers at the zoo from husbandry to gift shop employees
Assistive Technology: Utilizing  a variety of AT devices to access information
Sensory Efficiency Skills: So many ways to use all the senses to enjoy and learn about the zoo
Self-Determination: Making choices, understanding abilities and relation of self in an activity. 

The zoo is a real possibility for children with vision impairments. I hope parents are encouraged to get out there and see what possibilities are there with a little creativity for being in the community.
I can't end this blog post without giving a huge shout out to Elise from Hogle Zoo, Becky Weeks (faithful staff who cut all the fabric for experience books and helped assemble them) and all of my colleagues from the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind who came out to support for the celebration of White Cane Day 2016!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Pete The Cat for the ECC!

Pete the Cat for children with vision impairments

If you haven't heard of or read Pete the Cat, you are MISSING out!!I fell in love with the series a few years ago because it was the first book my son could read by himself (Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes). It a fun series that has grown from one book to many with several activities, songs and Braille copies available. The stories are catchy and kids (and adults) just love them! 
Many classroom teachers have jumped on the Pete wagon as well so many of our kids have  had a chance to hear/read Pete stories. Many of the books have a central theme that teachers can naturally use to introduce concepts to. They are a great balance of core and expanded core curriculums.

I love that the Pete the Cat series also has repetitive passages which helps with anticipation and language support for elementary age students. I have many students that are echolalia (repeats language and doesn't initiate it). The passages repeat in a way that my students can anticipate the passage and will say it. When I know that they know the passage, I stop talking to allow turn taking to occur.

I first started using Pete the Cat to teach the Expanded Core Curriculum with I Love My White Shoes. Pete teaches all areas of the ECC! With I Love My White Shoes, I did a great hands on lesson that touched on all ECC areas:
compensatory (reading in accessible print, interact appropriately with print)
assistive technology (iPad for students, multimedia with video or CCTV use)
 independent living skills (cooking)
sensory efficiency (touch, taste and smell)
social skills (engages in group activity, learning the social skill from the story)
orientation and mobility (Pete steps "in" a pile of..., walking through things, spatial awareness)
recreation and leisure (reading for fun, discussing the activities in the story)
career education (finishing the story, talking about people/places in the community)
self-determination (giving opinion about liking/disliking books)

If you are not familiar with the book, Pete steps into mud, piles of strawberries and blueberries and then water (that turns his shoes white). I used coordinating foods: Nutella (mud), strawberries and blueberries and whip cream (white). We read the story and then used our foods when it came up in the story. I included real pictures of my activity so you can see that although my lesson was successful, it's not always pretty :)

activity for blind children with the book Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes
This is a popular activity with the I Love My White Shoes book. Many teachers have done this activity. I want to point out that this is the ECC in the classroom!

activity for blind children with the book Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes

activity for blind children with the book Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes

Another of my fave Pete the Cat ECC lessons is Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses. I love using this one to teach about feelings. It once again incorporates many areas of the ECC especially helping with social skills. It's a great way to talk about different feelings. I love to have sunglasses as a tactual item to use while we read. 

Other popular Pete books that teach the ECC is Rocking My School Shoes, Groovy Guide to Life and My Four Groovy Buttons. 
I have used the YouTube videos and the free audio track to incorporate more accessibility. You can get videosand audio here: and
I have put it on an iPad by making it a PowerPoint book for my kiddos who have multiple impairments or CVI. I love using PowerPoint because I can highlight things/reduce clutter and add motion to pictures in PP. To do this: I took pictures of the book and imported them into PP then added highlights/motion/other needs. You can import the audio track easily to PP books too! 
I also have multiple copies of the book, manipulatives, buttons, etc. while reading with a small group.  This allows our kids to have a smooth read every time we read. There are the traditional stories and early readers of the Pete series to match reading levels of your students. There are also many new Braille versions that are becoming available. 
Parents you can read Pete the Cat at home and do these activities, too! No need to let the classroom teachers have all the fun. Here's a way that you can support both curriculums at home. 
The sky is the limit with teaching Pete the Cat. As always, look to see how it naturally incorporates the ECC (it always does!). Check Pinterest and the internet for lots of Pete the Cat ideas. He is one groovy cat!

Friday, September 16, 2016

College Success Mentor Program

I was at the AFB Leadership Conference this past February in Washington DC and had the great opportunity to hear about the launch of this new program through Learning Ally. Learning Ally has been around for awhile (formerly known as RFB&D) and provides books to download.

Learning Ally logo
I loved hearing about this new program that provided support, instruction and mentoring for youths with vision impairments as they prepare to go to college or are in college. They have a set of curriculum that include topics such as how to speak to professors and partnering with using the disability resource office. They also have thousands of textbooks to browse through.

blind young man
A young man who is blind stands with a friend in his graduation gown
I highly encourage transition age youth (and new college students) to sign up for this program. I especially like the mentor system that they have. You can read about their bios on their site and then sign up for one. Mentoring is such a powerful tool for our kids to learn the tips and tricks of being successful in college.

Here's the link:

Friday, July 29, 2016

Communication Desk for Students with Multiple Impairments

It's almost time to get back to school! If you are a teacher of a student with a multiple impairment including deafblindness or blindness, you need to read this!!
Communication is at the very top of my priority list when it comes to being a teacher. Our kiddos need consistent opportunities for expressive and receptive communication. The second priority on my instruction list is creating defined spaces. Defined spaces allow our students to be anchored in space/environment/body and then sets the framework for anticipation.  

If you are unsure on how to use a calendar box system, read these articles:

The student communication desk idea follows tactual symbols/calendar box system strategy and using a defines space. The students that use these desks that are pictures are those with multiple impairments or show Autistic like behaviors and have significant vision impairments. All of the students are non-verbal. 

The teacher has done a terrific job of implementing tactual/object symbols for instruction. She was stumped because using a traditional finished box was not working. We needed to find a solution that would help students establish that a concept/lesson/symbol was finished but wouldn't fly away (if thrown) and was unique enough that they could comprehend "finished". 
Solution: The object symbols (routine for the day) are laid out across on top. The blue or red felt area that is perpendicular is the finished area. Notice that it is a defined area that is unique. It is a clearly defined finished area. Students place finished symbols on the felt area. These two areas teach spatial awareness (across and top/bottom), literacy (left to right, reading symbols) and self determination (students make choices and can communicate based on the location of the symbols) and communication. 

The student communication desk also teaches compensatory skills including communication and reading their name by tactually identifying their desk (notice the symbol placed at the bottom right of the desk and on their chair). 

Their academic piece as well as any career ed/work for reward also follows a consistent communication system. Notice the discreet trial training boards (penny boards) that have each students' unique symbol. 

Note: We placed their boards and binders on the desk for the purpose of this picture. All of these items may be on the desk at one time depending on activity. It is important to note that each of these items have a specific and consistent placement for students. 

I can't reiterate enough that knowledge is key for using the communication desk idea. You must have knowledge of calendar box systems, creating tactual symbols and communication strategies. There are some terrific articles out there about incorporating, implementing and standardizing tactual symbols for students with vision impairments. Here is one that I really like from Paths to Literacy.
The tactual symbols pictured were created from the APH Tactile Connections Kit. It's a quality kit that can be purchased on quota funds via APH. Make sure you have a quality hot glue gun and hook & loop (Velcro, too!). Always remember that symbols should be easy to replicate (always save extra fabric or duplicates of object). Symbols can be eaten, slobbered on and tossed in a heartbeat. 

I love this desk idea especially for our nonverbal students that do not use a complex communication system. You can build on these symbols and concepts. I love that this teacher uses consistency for the students. And yes, it does implement Expanded Core Curriculum objectives!!